- The Early Reader in Children's Literature and Culture: Theorizing Books for Beginning Readers. ed. by Jennifer M. Miskec and Annette Wannamaker
In their introduction to The Early Reader in Children's Literature and Culture:Theorizing Books for Beginning Readers, Jennifer M. Miskec and Annette Wannamaker define the category of the Early Reader loosely as "those books that children are first able to read entirely on their own" (4). The authors point out that although "Early Readers are often overlooked, dismissed, or merely tolerated . . . as fun, silly fare a child can uncritically consume before moving, hopefully quickly, onto more meaningful, more literary texts," this category of books "deserve[s] much more scholarly attention and careful thought" (1). Whether termed "Early Readers," "Easy Readers," "beginning readers," "intermediate readers," "independent readers," "early chapter books,"or "first readers," this broad category of books, Miskec and Wannamaker argue, represents perhaps the first moment that many young readers have to [End Page 255] independently engage with and experience pleasure from a work of literature. This collection sets out to answer Katharine Capshaw's call in the Spring 2013 issue of Children's Literature Association Quarterly that children's literature scholars focus critical attention on the early reader genre, and it does so by using interdisciplinary approaches from research in the fields of education, cultural studies, literary theory, and children's literature (1–2).
The Early Reader in Children's Literature and Culture includes fifteen chapters and an introduction and is divided into four sections: History, Aesthetics and Form, Culture, and Global Contexts. Overall, the chapters in Section I: History, along with the introduction, were the most noteworthy in defining and situating the development of the Early Reader genre within the history of children's literature. While the chapters in Section II: Aesthetics and Form examine the narrative and formal devices typical of Early Readers, the chapters in Section III: Culture and Section IV: Global Contexts feature close readings of notable Early Reader stand-alone or series works. Section III's chapters, focused on culture, seemed as if they would be most useful in the context of the undergraduate university children's literature classroom.
In her chapter from Section I, "From the New England Primer to The Cat in the Hat: Big Steps in the Growth and Development of Early Readers," Ramona Caponegro examines historical children's books from the seventeenth through the twentieth century that had the greatest impact on the development of contemporary Early Readers (such as the New England Primer, Jacob Abbott's Rollo Learning to Read, Gertrude Chandler Warner's The Boxcar Children, The Ultimate Dick and Jane Storybook Collection, Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, and Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak's Little Bear) and sees the category as "an adaptable category with a cyclical history" (13–14). In the same section, Rebekah Fitzsimmons's "Creating and Marketing Early Reader Picture Books" explores the Early Reader genre as part of the Reading Wars controversy, a public debate about methods of reading instruction in American elementary schools during the 1950s, by taking aim at "the motivations of the creators of this specialized niche genre, and the marketing used to entice parents into purchasing this new 'essential product for their children" (38). These early chapters provide a foundational understanding of the roots of the genre and set the stage for the chapters that follow in the Aesthetics and Form, Culture, and Global Contexts sections.
In their contributions to the collection in Sections II and III, respectively, Annette Wannamaker's "Babymouse in Space: Locating the Reader, Text, Character, and Brand" and Sarah Park Dahlen's "Alvin Ho: Not Allergic to Playing Indian, Feathers, and Other Stereotypical Things" each provide a critique of the content of seemingly praise-worthy Early Readers. Wannamaker laments Babymouse's "limited and limiting" depiction of the titular [End Page 256] character's status as both a child and "a female character who longs for more freedom of movement, but must learn to make do" (101, 103). Dahlen notes...